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With: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor, Famke Janssen, Ashley Lyn Cafagna, Joseph Latimore, Wayne Grace, Daniel von Bargen, Jordan Marder, Barry Del Sherman, Joel Swetow, Vincent Schiavelli
Written by: Clive Barker, based on his short story
Directed by: Clive Barker
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, and for language and sexuality
Running Time: 121
Date: 08/25/1995
IMDB

Lord of Illusions (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Impractical Magic

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great Clive Barker is known as a horror/fantasy writer and an artist, but he also made a brief foray into filmmaking, writing and directing only three feature films, all of them fascinating and bursting with personality. He became disillusioned with the business of filmmaking, and how clueless studio executives could tinker with his work, but nowadays his films can be seen in their preferred director's cuts, including his third, Lord of Illusions. I just caught up with it for the first time on Shout! Factory's superb 2014 Blu-ray release, which includes the 109-minute theatrical cut and the 121-minute director's cut.

As with his previous two movies (Hellraiser and Nightbreed), Lord of Illusions uses plenty of bizarre manifestations of latex, blood, and makeup, accompanied by artwork and freakish, incredible set and prop designs. These movies are at their best when simply exploring these worlds, both curious and horrified. But this movie is interesting for another reason; it contains perhaps Barker's most enduring character (aside from the iconic "Pinhead"), the private eye of the supernatural, Harry D'Amour. D'Amour first appeared in the short story "The Last Illusion," which can be found as a bonus in Barker's novel Cabal or in Vol. 6 of the Books of Blood. In that story, D'Amour is hired to look after the body of a deceased illusionist named Swann but finds himself facing weird, otherworldly forces.

The movie departs from it quite a bit. It begins with some kind of strange cult, led by Nix (Daniel von Bargen). Some of its former members, led by Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), arrive to stop them, rescue a kidnapped girl named Dorothea, and kill Nix. They succeed, screwing a series of metal clamps to Nix's face and then burying him. In the present, Swann is now a successful illusionist, thanks to something Nix did to him during their fight. The now grown-up Dorothea (Famke Janssen), who is married to Swann hires Harry to look into a murder that may have something to do with the cult. Before too long, Swann dies gruesomely during an illusion that goes wrong. So Harry finds himself neck-deep in all kinds of magical strangeness, including, of course, a plot to resurrect Nix.

The movie works largely thanks to the main character, a throwback to old detective movies with Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but in a new setting. Bakula plays him fairly straight, a little cute and a little cocky. I had pictured D'Amour as a little shabbier, a little more world-weary (a bit more like Mitchum), but Bakula looks good with his shirt removed in several scenes. No matter; the character is still terrific.

As an entry in the horror genre, Lord of Illusions isn't exactly scary, but Barker's images are constantly alarming and alluring; they're beautiful in a peculiar, dark way. He decorates many scenes with odd, sinister bric-a-brac from sculptures to paintings on the walls in the background, all suggesting horrors going on outside the story. It's apparent that his interest in the evil cult and the resurrection of Nix is secondary compared to the smaller things, such as the mask that renders him helpless, or the secret room in the Magic Castle that supposedly contains all the world's secrets of magic. The key to Barker is that his films suggest the infinite possibility of both wonders and horrors, just beyond.

Shout! Factory's Blu-ray is exceptional because both the theatrical cut and director's cut appear to have undergone the same high-quality treatments; often, one is preferred over the other. The theatrical cut disc includes a trailer, and the director's cut disc comes with a Barker commentary track, two featurettes, deleted scenes, an interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer, and stills.

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